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Reviewed by:
  • Cinema After Deleuze After 9/11
  • Richard Rushton (bio)
David Martin-Jones, Deleuze, Cinema and National Identity: Narrative Time in National Contexts. 2006. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2008.

Deleuze, Cinema and National Identity is an ambitious attempt to bring together the writings of Gilles Deleuze and discourses on national cinemas. In arguing that some of Deleuze's concepts can be relevant to national cinematic discourses, David Martin-Jones offers a critique of the concept of the nation insofar as that concept is both facilitated and reflected by films.

As part of the general framework of his argument, Martin-Jones tends to criticize films that provide unified and totalizing "national narratives," while he supports those films that undermine or complicate linear unification. In this respect, his argument falls in line with myriad contemporary condemnations of unity and linearity while championing diversity and multiplicity. His argument becomes most sophisticated and provocative when he calls into question recent U.S. cinema responses to the attacks of September 11, 2001. He argues about a number of films, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (Jonathan Mostow, 2003) being exemplary, that the U.S. national narrative can only solidify itself on the basis of significant historical erasures. The September 11 attacks are quite literally a "ground zero" on the basis of which a number of historical truths can be sidestepped (Vietnam, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and so on) in order that the U.S. be cleansed of its sins and any misgivings about itself swept away by a tide of renewed triumphalism. In short, if before September 11 the U.S. might have been hesitant about its need or ability to meddle in world affairs, then after September 11 it no longer needed to pursue its global aims with reserve. A film like Terminator 3 re-writes history in line with U.S. triumphalism, a reiteration of the kind of re-writing that goes back, Martin-Jones points out, at least to Griffith's Birth of a Nation (1915).

The significant counter-example to Terminator 3 and U.S. triumphalism is Michel Gondry's 2003 film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The book's most important arguments emerge in its discussion of this film, although they are foreshadowed in the book's opening chapters which, after introductory discussions of Hitchcock's Vertigo and Fellini's , chiefly deal with Sliding Doors in a British context and Run, Lola, Run in a unified German one, and are rounded off in the final chapter, which comments on films from Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan. The book's moral message can be discerned in the discussion of Eternal Sunshine, especially in the claim that "by not comprehending the causes of a past trauma people are destined perpetually to repeat it" (173). For Martin-Jones, Eternal Sunshine achieves one thing that most other American films since 9/11 do not: it does not eschew the troubling nature of history. Rather than erasing or re-writing history, Eternal Sunshine asks its characters to re-trace the paths that have forged their histories—to re-visit history, to question it, and to examine their relationship to and responsibility for that history.

The contrast between Eternal Sunshine's approach to history and the triumphalist approach garnered by films such as Terminator 3 allows Martin-Jones to introduce Deleuze's main cinematographic categories of the time-image and movement-image. While Terminator 3 affirms a logic of the movement-image by way of its commitments to linearity and an unambiguous national narrative, Eternal Sunshine more appropriately encourages an aesthetic of the time-image, in which the past is re-visited in a manner that allows it to be discovered anew. Eternal Sunshine offers an approach to the past that considers both the past's impact on the present and also the ways in which the present shapes any approach to the past. This co-implication of past and present contrasts markedly with the movement-image's affirmation of the separation between past and present, of a past that is safely and securely "in the past," and of a present that is definitively separated from that past.

A final set of categories is borrowed...

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